Developed by Sobaka Studio and published by Ravenscourt 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is retro style beat-em-up with a few modern twists. Although you get old kung-fu movie feel to the game with teachings of martial arts and the way of the Shaolin there is also some magic and supernatural elements which lean on the side of fantasy as well. The game looks crisp, like something you would expect from an animated TV series of the Shaolin. The audio is what you would expect from a Shaolin/Kung Fu game with oriental guitar-like instruments and gongs but it does tend to loop on occasion which can get old a bit fast.
The story is a tad too cliché for my liking but not the most important in a side-scrolling beat-em-up. You play as Wei Cheng, an unfortunate fisherman whose parents were killed by a gang, leading to him being raised by his grandfather to be a fisherman, yet also to be adept with a staff – which is coincidental. However, Wei’s village is attacked and everyone including his grandfather is killed, with Wei gravely injured by a bandit in a red mask. He is found and nursed back to health by the Shaolin monks who confirm the village was destroyed. The Shaolin sent the monks to help the monasteries and anyone being attacked by the bandits but didn’t get there in time. So, with a heart full of hate and revenge, he wants to help the monks in any way he can in return for their teachings of martial arts. But can Wei overcome those hateful feelings and learn what it is to be Shaolin?
The gameplay is quite tidy and handles a lot of the challenges well when it comes to beat-em-ups. The action is quite fast-paced and you start with 3 main types of attack; a fast kick attack, a medium-paced slash attack, and a slower thrust attack. You can mix these up for different combos, and some of the enemies are more vulnerable to certain attacks so it pays to experiment. There are a good variety of enemies to keep you on your toes and you will need to make use of the parry button for certain enemies who can hide in the background or foreground and fire projectiles at you. If you time the parry correctly you send the projectile right back at them.
Scattered around the levels are breakable boxes some containing tea in various colours. These are your health/powerups which you will need for certain stages. The green tea is the main variant you will find which replenishes health; obviously, you will have to suspend a little bit of belief thinking your foes will wait whilst you chug down some Chai, but it’s no different to other games in the genre where you tuck into a roast chicken found in a bin.
The levels themselves are very short which is both a good and bad thing in this genre. Too long and you can easily suffer repetition burn out, but too short and you get the impression you might be able to complete the game very quickly. But 9 Monkeys of Shaolin encourages you to replay some levels to either keep gaining skill points used to increase your characters move stats or to search for hidden statues which open up game modifiers.
Each level you complete grants you skill points and as you progress you will unlock tier 2 and 3 skills. Tier 2 are special attacks which consume Qi to use which can be gained by doing normal attacks. Tier 3 allows you to perform magical seals which can slow the enemy or make them levitate and leave them vulnerable. Some levels you complete will unlock equipment in the form of staffs, boots and accessories. You can only wear one of each type and they each provide a certain boost so you can choose what best suits your style.
The hidden statues you find in each level unlock a game modifier which is a fun addition as some are good, but some make no sense. You can make the enemies have big heads or big bodies, you can change your character model to one of the monks or one of the enemies you have defeated, or you move like the wind which greatly increases your speed. But along with these interest ones are things like Drunken Master, Monks in Disguise and Howling Wolves. I have no idea what they do and there is no description either of what was modified but I am sure someone will work it out.
As with most beat-em-ups, this can also be played 2 player – locally only – which is much more fun to do so and the second player plays the part of Daosha, one of the youngest of the monks.
I have a couple of gripes but one is bigger than the other. I worry about some of the voice acting this game has. It is nice that there is voice acting but I have a suspicious feeling it is someone who speaks English talking with a fake Chinese accent. But the bigger gripe is that on some of the levels they have added a very small platforming section that doesn’t need to be there. You need to hop from one platform to the next but you don’t have a jump button only a dash/evade button. You have to press the evade button at the right time to make it to the next platform but it doesn’t matter if you fall off anyway. All that happens is the screen fades out and you end up on the previous platform and I don’t even think you lose health. It’s only on about 3 levels but it does make me wonder what the point of doing it was.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin is an enjoyable beat-em-up and it gets a lot of things right in this day and age. The shorter levels, variety of enemies and the variety of attacks make for a fun experience. It is better played with a friend and you can tweak the difficulty to increase the challenge. The game is quite short though however and may not be something you would come back to, but it is still a decent beat-em-up.
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Great review Graham, thank you.